Aught Lang Syne: The Worst of the Decade

Now, the raison d’etre for NPI’s look back at the last decade is to emphasize the cultural highs that the Aughts offered to those who lived through them. We are not here to condemn, and call the Aughts “the decade from Hell.” And so far we’ve stuck primarily to things from this decade that were truly awesome.

But, to paraphrase Shakespeare, the evil that decades do lives after them; the good is oft interred within their bones. This decade wasn’t all fun and games, and I’m not even talking about historical disasters, like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Mumbai, the tsunami, and the economic meltdown. No, this post is reserved for things that are truly detestable: bad songs, bad movies, and bad TV shows.

It seems pointless to waste words criticizing Cavemen, Gigli, and Paris Hilton’s 2006 album Paris—those horses have long since been dead and buried. Instead, this post will be about things that received inexplicable attention, unjustified praise, and undeserved popularity.

 

Worst Movie of the Decade: Gran Torino

Even before this decade began Clint Eastwood was already at the point where, no matter what he did, some people were going to say they loved it. Gran Torino was no different; when the movie was almost completely omitted from both the Golden Globe and the Oscar nominations, people thought it was a massive snub. In fact, some people even went so far as to say that the snub was politically motivated: Apparently, liberal Hollywood couldn’t handle the political incorrectness and edgy vibe of Gran Torino.

This was patently ridiculous. The Oscars get tons of things wrong, and this decade has certainly seen its share of blunders by the Academy, but not nominating Gran Torino was one of the best decisions it made. First of all, it was admirable not to go with the easy choice. Nobody would have complained if Gran Torino had been nominated, given its pedigree, but the Academy was actually concerned with quality for once. Second, Gran Torino was awful.

It’s even more laughable that people think it was political correctness or liberal sensitivity that doomed the movie, since Gran Torino is one of the most morally safe, hackneyed pieces of garbage I have ever seen.

Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, an old-fashioned racist and misanthrope who hates pretty much everyone. But he is one of the most cuddly, harmless racist misanthropes the world has ever seen. He uses politically incorrect language, but when the fast-tongued, young Hmong girl from next door comes over, he realizes that he has more in common with his “gook” neighbors than he does with his own family. The audience knows this because he says pretty much that exact line to himself in the mirror. All he really needed was one of them good Asians to let him know that the world can be a better place blah blah blah. I’m bored already.

Truthfully, if you replaced Clint Eastwood with someone like Fred Willard, you wouldn’t have to change one word of the script to make this movie a hilarious satire. In fact, parts of this movie are pretty funny anyway, albeit unintentionally. Without a doubt, the movie’s highlight is Eastwood’s voice rasping—so tenderly—over the closing credits, the only part of the movie that even crosses over into the “so-bad-it’s-good” realm.

Worst TV Season of the Decade: 24 Season Four

24 was one of the defining shows of the decade. It was one of the first network series to capitalize on serial formatting; it was one of the first big DVD success stories; it was one of the biggest water-cooler shows of the decade; it was one of the few times a film star transitioned to TV with even bigger success.

And it’s hard to deny the quality and innovation of the show’s early seasons. It’s also very easy to ridicule its most recent seasons, which frequented toward the ridiculous and absurd in their plot twists and character portraits.

So while the early seasons are correctly held in high esteem, and the later seasons are correctly viewed as misfires, there seems to be some confusion over when exactly the show derailed.

Season Four was a turning point for the show: It was the first season that aired continuously from January to May, which saw a marked improvement in the ratings. An increase in the show’s popularity, of course, meant an increase in its relevance.

Unfortunately, the fourth season was also a turning point in the show’s storytelling and quality. What separated the early seasons of the show was a sense of narrative arc and design: All the plot twists unfolded with a sense of direction. Instead of having two main arcs, like Seasons 1-3, Season Four had five different ones. Consequently, none of them had any real payoff; once they established a threat, it was almost immediately resolved.*

*The most ludicrous example of this being Edgar’s ability to use his computer savvy to stop a series of simultaneous nuclear meltdowns in about 11 seconds.  

Creating a lot of little stories instead of one big one also allowed the producers to more or less make the show up as they went along. They freely admitted that while originally they had planned the show out eight or ten episodes ahead, Season Four was down to two episodes ahead. As such, there was no real payoff for certain plot twists. What felt like calculated surprises in Seasons One and Two were more like silly distractions in Season Four.

By Seasons Six and Seven, people got impatient, realizing that this quick pacing and nonstop action was really just a cover for lazy writing and repetitive stories. Viewership has gone down, and critics have soured on the show. The glaring flaws of recent seasons were really there as early as Season Four; it was just that people were willing to look past it to focus on more important things, like glorifying torture.

 

Worst Song of the Decade: “Hollaback Girl”

Worst Album of the Decade: How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

“Hollaback Girl” and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb are two decidedly different kinds of bad. Dismantle was probably an okay album: I listened to it more than once, it had a few pretty decent tracks, etc. “Hollaback Girl,” however, had no redeemable qualities.

Dismantle certainly wasn’t the worst album of the decade in terms of quality; what make it such an irritating album is that it was perceived to be so good. The New York Times called it the best album of 2004. Village Voice had it at #2. Rolling Stone ranked it as the 68th best album of the entire decade. You might think I should call it the “most overrated album of the decade,” but it’s not simply that the album is overrated—plenty of albums are overrated. It’s more important why the album is overrated and what that means.

This album is the epitome of a band playing it safe, resting on its laurels, doing exactly nothing interesting or new…and improving its career as a result. U2 was already the biggest band in the world when Dismantle came out, but that album, combined with 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind, helped the band sustain its success—a success built on boring, repetitive, radio-friendly rock music.

“Hollaback Girl,” on the other hand, isn’t bad for any symbolic reasons; it just sounds awful. Who knows why this song was popular? I guess people really like to confirm that they can spell “bananas.” Or vaguely racist depictions of Asian cheerleaders. Or nasally yelling over a torturous drumbeat. Some things in life are a mystery.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by James Schneider on December 12, 2009 at 12:27 PM

    I was surprised; Grant Torino couldn’t have been much worse than Glitter.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Andrew on December 12, 2009 at 12:53 PM

    Gran Torino? Really? I suggest you watch The Wicker Man.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Douglas on December 12, 2009 at 4:32 PM

    “…[T]his post will be about things that received inexplicable attention, unjustified praise, and undeserved popularity.”

    I don’t think Glitter’s 2.0 rating on IMDB and The Wicker Man’s 3.6 qualify as unjustified praise. And even if they did, it still wouldn’t compare to Gran Torino’s absurd rating of 8.4, its spot as 21st on IMDB’s Top Rated “2000s” Titles list, and infuriating position as IMDB’s users’ 81st favorite move OF ALL TIME.

    Of course, Gran Torino is compelling in a way that simply isn’t matched by more simplistic, politically correct “first date” films like Full Metal Jacket (#86), No Country for Old Men (#109), and V for Vendetta (#167). And it was certainly Clint Eastwood’s best film ever, eclipsing his earlier underdeveloped works (Unforgiven, #106).

    Reply

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